On revising for exams (2018 version)

Welcome to this year’s updated version of the revision guide for one of the courses that I coordinate, beginners’ French I (FREN 101) and II (FREN 102). The original post is at UBC Blogs > FREN 101 & 102 Resources > Révisions. Its ancestor is at that course’s old site and first appeared there in 2014; I made a new site for this year as part of redesigning the course. Of course, the main actual exam revision guidance and general exam season guidance haven’t changed since then, nor indeed have they since predecessors that circulated orally; I’d say the same things in the last class every term in every language, literature, and culture course I’ve ever taught, back to 2001. (Does such guidance ever change? The classic complaint and old lament of traditional knowledge dismissed as non-knowledge, until it is stolen for profit by others and translated into authoritative publication and official sanction.)

UPDATED 2019-04 to include revision guides for FREN 102.




  • Livre de l’élève (textbook), sample DELF A1 questions, “Compréhension des écrits” + “Production écrite”; p. 35, 53, 71, 89, 197-200.
  • Cahier d’activités (workbook), sample DELF A1 questions, “Compréhension des écrits” #2 & 4 + “Production écrite” #1-2; p. 124-127.
  • Cahier d’activités, “BILAN” sections at the end of each dossier, “Compréhension des écrits” + “Production écrite” questions; p. 16-17, 30-31, 44-45, 58-59.


NOTE: the format of the course has changed, as has the form and content of the final examination. Many of the exercises in the old FREN 101 exams, however, are still useful:

  • reading comprehension
  • nouns and adjectives and their agreement
  • sentences using -ER verbs in the present, as well as ÊTRE, AVOIR, ALLER, PRENDRE, VENIR
  • sentences using conjugated verbs like AIMER + another verb in the infinitive, to talk about activities, preferences, tastes, and opinions
  • demonstrative and possessive adjectives (déterminants)
  • negation
  • asking questions
  • talking about space (prepositions of relative location etc.)
  • talking about time (adverbs, numbers and other vocabulary)

(Some exercises are not: for example, the old 101 exercises on the futur immédiat.)



I’m also including old FREN 102 exams here, because 101 covered some of the grammar that appears there:

  • some more verbs in the present: FAIRE, LIRE, ÉCRIRE, VOULOIR, POUVOIR, DEVOIR, CHOISIR, SORTIR
  • reflexive & reciprocal verbs (les verbes pronominaux) in the present

(Ignore the rest of the material in the old 102 exams: past tenses, more pronouns, etc.)

O’BRIEN REVISION CLASS (29 November 2018):

Pink Martini, “Sympathique (je ne veux pas travailler)” includes “hooks” for all the grammar of FREN 101 and sneak previews of 102.
Lyrics: https://genius.com/Pink-martini-je-ne-veux-pas-travailler-lyrics
Read about Pink Martini in French: https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Martini

In a last connection to the French poet the centenary of whose death has been haunting our course in the background, this song remixes and continues the Guillaume Apollinaire poem “Hôtel” (in his posthumous collection (1952) Le Guetteur mélancholique.)

Ma chambre a la forme d’une cage,
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre.
Mais moi qui veux fumer pour faire des mirages
J’allume au feu du jour ma cigarette.
Je ne veux pas travailler — je veux fumer.



  • Livre de l’élève (textbook), sample DELF A1 questions, “Compréhension des écrits” + “Production écrite”; p. 107, 161
  • Cahier d’activités (workbook), sample DELF A1 questions, “Compréhension des écrits” + “Production écrite”; p. 124-127.
  • Cahier d’activités, “BILAN” sections at the end of each dossier, “Compréhension des écrits” + “Production écrite” questions; p. 72, 86-87, 100-101, 114-115.


NOTE: the format of the course has changed, as has the form and content of the final examination. Many of the exercises in the old FREN 101 and 102 exams, however, are still useful:

  • reading comprehension
  • talking about preferences, tastes, and opinions
  • descriptive adjectives / les adjectifs qualificatifs
  • past tenses: passé récent, passé composé, imparfait
  • the future: futur proche, futur simple
  • pronouns: les pronoms personnels et relatifs
  • vocabulary




(Click image to open short public version (PDF) of The FREN 102 Squirrel Revision Guide)



The good news about FREN 101 & 102 exams is that you should not have any revision to do; and none of the sorts of “studying”—as contrasted with learning—that are needed in some other kinds of course and academic field.

French is a language; and language-learning is more like music or sport than, say, biology or economics. Language-learning is cumulative—with new knowledge building on previous acquisitions—and happens and is reinforced through regular practice. If you have been to class, worked in class, and worked on your practice exercises outside class—ideally, doing some French every day—then you will have been learning all term and should be well prepared for quizzes, tests, and exams in FREN 101 & 102.

DORMIR est le verbe le plus important en français (nos 2-10 = RÊVER, RÊVASSER, SONGER, IMAGINER, FLÂNER, FAINÉANTER, SE PROMENER, VAGUER, VAGABONDER…)

Here are some useful practical general tips and advice from Timothy Gowers (Mathematics, University of Cambridge) > scroll down to “General study advice.”

What more can you do?

  1. Sleep.

At least 8 hours/night, every night. Sleep plays an essential role in deep learning and the consolidation of memory.

  1. Electronic visual blackout before sleep.

At least an hour with no electronic light-sources (i.e. screens). This can also help you to sleep. Listening to music, however, is actively encouraged: especially if it’s in French! Music can also be  calming and comforting.

  1. Eat well and regularly.
  2. Exercise.

Including during the day, outside, in the fresh air and light.

While working, make sure you’ve at least stretched for 5 minutes every hour. This keeps your core muscles limber and your airways open; especially around your upper torso and shoulders. During an exam too: we will remind students of the passing of time during the exam, and one reason for that is to give us a reason to remind students to stretch out a bit.

  1. Prepare, intelligently. (See video above, which reformulates much of the information below.)

Work on the Cahier d’activités exercises.

Work in shorter intensive stretches (maximum 20 to 30 minutes), with regular breaks. Set an alarm or a timer, to ensure that you have a break for at least 5-10 minutes every hour.

Read, watch, and listen to some French every day: even 5 minutes of skim-reading newspaper headlines online. Any French, from any Francophone place, on any subject. This is also a good excuse to watch a movie in French (in French, preferably with sub-titles in French too).

Ó Brien, “Tips for learning” (PDF, 2018):

Doing a mini-immersion in French is the single best thing that you can do immediately before our French exam: listen to and/or watch some French the evening before your exam, read some French in the morning, and then give your beautiful mind a rest to help it to be ready for the exam.

Cramming at the last minute is not advised, for three reasons:

(a) Most of your work is done during term, in the virtuous cycle of teaching-and-learning. This is reinforced by FREN101′s practice exercises (Cahier d’activités). There is little material that you can cram at the last minute, without taking drugs of a sort that also risk messing up memory. French is unlike academic areas that depend on learning facts by heart, by rote, in a mechanical robotic way.

(b) French is like most other academic subjects in that, at a university level, in order to do well you will/should also need to show evidence of reflexion, of independent thought; of applied knowledge. This entails active new thinking during the exam.

(c) French, like any language, requires regular continuous work and practice. The way it is learned is more like music than is is like other Arts/Humanities subjects. An analogy: if you had a piano recital, you wouldn’t do nothing at all and then cram 18 hours’ practice the day before.

  1. Some of the best revision you can do before tests and exams is testing yourself. One of the best tests of your knowledge is your capability to explain something to another person. Work in study-pairs or groups (but keep them small: 2-4 people). Meet regularly over coffee/tea (and maybe cake, du gâteau). Quiz each other. This can be done at any time, and continues to be beneficial in the week before a final exam
  2. Make sure you know where your exam is taking place, how to get to it, and how long that will take.

  3. Make sure you know where the nearest bathroom is. Pay a visit before the exam.

  4. Arrive at your exam early (at least 20 minutes before the start), preferably including at least 10 minutes’ walking in your itinerary to get some oxygen into your brain (but not running).

  5. Don’t bring anything with you that you don’t need for the exam itself. Especially no notes, revision guides, textbook, etc. They rarely-to-never help. They often hinder. You’re better off spending those last few minutes before the exam doing deep breathing. Some people meditate. Do whatever works for you, something calm that involves breathing slowly and deeply, good for your heart-rate as well as your blood (and brain) oxygen levels.


UBC resources for stress-relief for students:

UBC Learning Commons:

Arts Peer Academic Coaching: APAC’s coaching hours are hosted in the Meekison Arts Student Space in Buchanan D140 (down the hall from Arts Academic Advising). There are two ways to meet with a coach:

Great news – peer coaching is free! Come on your own, or bring a friend. Come by once, or several times to meet some of the different coaches on the team.

O’Brien personal recommendations on and near campus (all are free to access):

UBC Coyote's official message of goodwill to all for final examinations (28 November 2014)

Image source: Facebook > UBC Coyote



  • See UBC exam schedule


  • your UBC student ID
  • a pen and/or pencil (I would recommend bringing three new ones that you’ve already tested out)
  • water, if you wish
  • a spare layer of clothing in case you get cold during the exam (cardigan, hat, etc.)
  • basics such as keys, outerwear, umbrella, …

WHAT YOU COULD BRING WITH YOU (OPTIONAL and not for use during the exam)

  • one index card of notes

NB: No notes or books or materials are allowed in the exam itself (as should be clear from the exam format, practice exams, etc.). This is an exam preparation suggestion only for those students who find it worrying to have nothing with them and feel reassured to have something to look at as last-minute revision. Doing that using one pre-prepared index card is better (and writing that index card is very good preparation in its own right) than bringing all of your notes, textbook, workbook, etc. with you.


  • textbooks, notes, revision materials
  • cellphones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, headphones, and other electronic devices
  • I usually recommend not bringing or using tippex / wite-out / liquid paper or erasers: in exams like ours, where you are actually writing rather than filling out scannable forms, it is better to strike through an answer that you think is wrong and then return to it when you are proofreading and editing, so that you can see your own thinking and working in such areas of uncertainty and pick up your thought where you left off before moving on to the next question. It’s possible that an earlier answer was right, and if you’ve erased it, you’ll have lost it. Also, when I am marking, I can give you at least partial marks if I can see your working, including a previous correct answer.



You are expected to know these: it is one of your contractual responsibilities and obligations when you registered as a UBC student.




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